Friday, July 25, 2008

"Not forgiving yourself is not having faith..."

My light reading, unlike that of many of my friends, tends not to be fantasy or science fiction. I like detectives or spies and suspense in a recognizable world. I'm a major fan of Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, and once read Heinlein and other science fiction writers — but not so much anymore. I do like good historical fiction — but only if it doesn't try to change history. I like my fiction to teach me something — about history, about some aspect of living that isn't familiar, about human nature, about an environment, about something real. Some science fiction and fantasy can do some of those things, too.

In the last few years I've read several of Andrew Klavan's books. They are tough, hard-boiled thrillers. For me, his are the kind of book that gets read in a day or two — compulsive reading — which isn't to say that I've been entirely comfortable with them. I like books that plumb the seedy, awful, sinful aspects of human nature to have some redeeming quality — a protagonist who has attractive, virtuous qualities, and even Klavan's heroes were a bit too flawed for my taste. I've been responding differently to his newest book.

Empire of Lies has a flawed protagonist all right — but he is a Christian, altogether aware of his fallibility, and capable of — at least sometimes — resisting temptation. For instance, when he comes within a hairsbreadth of ignoring his marriage vows, but doesn't:
I had done the right thing. I knew that. This adultery business — I mean, it's all right on TV and in the movies and such, in history books and in novels and so on, where no one gets hurt. But again, what's the point of telling a story if you don't at least try to tell the truth? And the truth is: My wife's life and happiness were all in our marriage. My children's happiness depended on ours. I was the head of our household—the man in charge—I had authority over all their lives and was responsible for them. Plus I loved them. I loved them. I didn't want them to become like ... well, like everyone else, you know: mere artifacts and relics of a feckless era. With those grim, cynical faces you see everywhere. With those hurt, bitter eyes. Saying: Well, that's the way of things. As we all know, that just the way. I want my family to be able to say instead: No. A man can live by his word. A man can do the decent thing. My husband did. My father did. So can I.

So I did it: the decent thing, the only wise, the only honest, the only honorable thing.
The book's plot involves Islamo-terrorists. The central charater, Jason Harrow, is not a professional detective or investigator. Rather, as with those in many of Hitchcock's films, he is drawn into an increasingly dangerous situation without realizing quite what is happening.

Recently Klavan gave an interview to the proprietor of Dirty Harry's Place ["Dirty Harry" refers to the Eastwood character in the movie of that name]. An excerpt:
Jason Harrow, your protagonist, is a very flawed individual with a large bag of rocks to haul around from his past. Without my spoiling any story points, I found his ability to live with what he’d done — to forgive himself, which is often the hardest thing to do — a unique way to explore the salvation of Christ. I’m not saying Jason didn’t have regrets, but he was able to move past his past life and not get stalled punishing himself. Not forgiving yourself is not having faith in Christ — a sin in a way.

What a beautiful way to put it. I’m taking some flak, you know, about Jason from conservatives. Why does he think such dirty thoughts, why did he do such terrible things, why can’t your heroes be more likable and so on. But that’s just asking me to gussy up the world and that’s not my job. I believe art is a vehicle for seeking the truth of human existence, of the experience of being human. And the human mind is messy – sinful if you want to put it in religious terms, but even in secular terms, the fact remains. To quote the Bible: the imagination of man is evil from his youth. And I think that’s true in one way or another even of the best of us. I find a lot of people – maybe all people – will do anything, say anything, believe anything rather than confront the evil inside them or the bad things they’ve done. That means that forgiveness becomes our only means of seeing clearly, our only means of setting rationalization and self-deceit aside. It ain’t easy either. It’s a long road.

There’s a very moving scene where Jason takes us back to the moment he found God. He describes the moment he realizes that the saying of the prayer was the answer to the prayer. Without getting too personal, as a writer, where did that come from?

A lot of Jason’s experience comes from two intellectual places. One is my reading of the Marquis de Sade – you know, the guy who gives us the term “sadism.” I read his work many years ago, when I was an atheist, and I thought, you know what? That’s the only fully honest atheist philosophy I’ve ever read, the only book that truly acknowledges the consequences of that belief system. So I put an aspect of that sadism into Jason’s character. (Very difficult because, as you know, personally I’m a sweetie-pie.) And another inspiration for his character is my reading of the book of Genesis, the garden of Eden story. And no, I don’t take it literally, I don’t think Darwin got everything wrong. But I do think it’s a story of stupendous depth and wisdom. And one of the things it speaks about is the centrality of shame in human nature, the way in which, the moment we come to a consciousness of good and evil, we see ourselves as naked, as needing to be covered up and to hide. People who believe we should throw off the shackles of repression and all get together and screw each other silly or whatever are missing the point – the shame’s still there, it’s inherent in the human condition. So I wanted to explore that shame and explore the central spiritual response of our culture, which is salvation through Christ. And, look, I don’t consider this a Christian book but it is a book about a Christian man. And even though I’m not preaching or trying to sell that experience to anyone, it’s an experience I’ve had and I used whatever skill I have to fictionalize it and convey it. Even if you’re not interested in questions of God at all or religious at all, I hoped that I could make it moving to you to see how this man reshapes his life and why. [more]
The book will not be to everyone's taste - some will even find it offensive - but if you, like me, enjoy thrillers, you should give this Klavan a try.

Dirty Harry’s Place… » The New Iconoclasts: Andrew Klavan — The Interview

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